When I tell people where I am from in California, I usually say Chico. Most people associate Chico with Chico State as it at one time made Playboy’s list of top party schools and has been a reputation that has stuck. Some associate Chico as the “City of Trees” thanks to all the different tree varieties that can be found in our area. We have John Bidwell to thank for that as well as to enjoy Bidwell Park which makes up nearly 17% of the city and is home to one of the nation’s largest municipal parks. Others may know Chico for many other reasons. I love the downtown atmosphere and enjoyed all the fruits of living near a town of 120,000, my parent’s business is located in Chico, and I am even an alumni of Chico State but the truth is… that’s not where I called “home”. It’s easy to say I am from Chico, because well, it’s the closest “big city” to where I really spent most of my time.
The places where I spent my time, my old stomping grounds, that place where I know all the back roads, where I grew up and got into trouble in is a town 10 miles to the south of Chico. It’s a town called Durham. But unless you are from the area, nobody knows where Durham is. Durham is a community of about 5,000 and reminds me a lot of the community I live in now, Ashley. Sure the populations are far being similar but they share similarities. The share the same struggles that made up a small town. For example. it is extremely tough for a small business to thrive in Durham when you are 10 miles away from a bigger city. Ashley, North Dakota is 80-90 miles away from any big city and they have their fair share of the same issues.
I actually grew up halfway in between Chico and Durham and so for half of my school career, I went to Chico schools. In the 6th grade, once my brother started school, I moved to Durham. I had already known some of the people and had friends there thanks to being involved in 4-H even before I transferred schools. It didn’t take long for me to become an official “Durham-ite”. And now I am proud to say that I am a 10 year Durham Parkview 4-H member and 2 year Project Leader, a graduate of Durham High School, as well as volunteered my time at many community events like Rotary Dinners, Cemetery cleanups, and other events.
Durham, much like Ashley, has its small town drama and ups and downs, but when it comes down to it, the people who live in Durham are fierce supporters of their small town. They are willing to step up and volunteer and their community organizations thrive thanks to that. Much of the community of Durham is made up of farmers… both rice and nut farmers. My childhood home is basically surrounded by almond orchards on two sides. When I drove to school in Durham or the other way to Chico, I drove through orchards almost the entire way. And when I headed even more south, I got into rice country.
This is where I felt at home. Whenever I needed to think, I got in the car and drove. Endless miles of trees or rice flooded fields. Dirt roads. Off the beaten path. I experienced my version of “the country” and “living rural”. I got to see wildlife as the rice fields were home to the many ducks and geese that travel the Pacific Flyway. These were the places I really felt alive.
Moving away and to North Dakota has given me the opportunity and a whole new appreciation for those places that honestly, I took for granted when I live there. Our last trip to California for Thanksgiving, we got out and got to sight see those places. We got to explore, take the back roads, see wildlife, and even catch some rice production in action. This is where I am from. Here are some of my favorite places to go that you won’t find in on Wikipedia or in a tourist guide.
The Midway. If you live in Durham, you travel this road every single time you need to head North to Chico. It’s a sight to behold in the Fall when the leaves change. Out of towners and people who don’t live in Durham view this road as dangerous, as it has taken many lives. Those of us who traveled it every day learn to respect the road and that speeding just isn’t worth it when it comes to your pocketbook and even more importantly, your life.
You can’t miss the four way stop in Durham, in fact, it’s somewhat of a landmark for the people who live in the area. Made up of the taco wagon (as we refer to it), the Durham Country Market (we call it the DCM), the Community Calendar sign, and some local businesses, the four corners is the epicenter of the Durham Community. Around rush hour, when school gets out, you can expect your wait time to get through the stop sign to be longer than usual. If you grew up in or around Durham, you have fond memories of the DCM and the Taco Wagon. Whenever I visit, I always make it a point to hit up the taco wagon as it is my favorite in the Chico and Durham area.
If you head through Durham and go west, you will eventually hit the Sacramento River. Ord Bend (pictured above) was typically where we would launch the boat and take a family fishing trip. I have many fond memories of salmon and striper (striped bass) fishing with my dad. It was so peaceful being out on the water and plus when the fish are biting, there’s nothing like the thrill of a big salmon on the end of your line.
To the south of Durham, you get into rice country. Nothing but field after field of rice production. And you don’t even have to get off the beaten path to check it out, if you take Interstate 5 through California, you will come upon rice production as it spans all the way East from I-5 to south of Durham. While traveling to the South and along the Interstate, on clear days, you will get a great view of the Sutter Buttes (pictured above). If you are lucky enough to be traveling through the area during rice production, you may see depending on the time of the year, farmers out working. I have watched combine after combine work right along the Interstate during harvest time. In the photo above, the farmer is using what’s called a “stomper” which incorporates the leftover rice straw into the soil and helps it break down.
And of course with the rice fields comes wildlife. Traveling south you will come across several wildlife preserves where you can spot anything from ducks and geese to egrets and herons. The Pacific Flyway brings in hordes of ducks and geese to the area and during the winter months, these preserves are packed. When we were visiting last, my husband and I drove out to Grey Lodge which was just gorgeous. I couldn’t believe the amount of ducks and geese that were already there and winter hasn’t even started yet.
I love where I live in North Dakota.. I love our town, the people, the sights, the friends I’ve made.. But there will always be a special place in my heart for my hometown in Durham and the surrounding areas. Some days my heart hurts a little more than others and even after over a year of living here, I still get homesick. When you spend 20+ years in one place and a place you vowed you never would leave, leaving that place is hard. I still tear up while looking at some of the photos and having to leave after visiting is hard. But each and every time it gets easier, I cry a little less, and I look forward to being home here in North Dakota.
Where are you from? What are some things that a tourist guide wouldn’t tell you? Have you ever left that area?